Published by Oxford University Press (USA), March, 2012.
175 pages, paperback.
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The comparative study of cognition is the area of the cognitive sciences most richly connected to the rest of behavioral biology, embracing not only every aspect of cognition but its development and evolution in all species, humans included. Research in comparative cognition also provides “animal models” for behavioral neuroscience and genetics and insights into the behavior of species we wish to conserve and protect. At its core, it asks what our minds share with those of the other creatures on this planet and what makes us unique.
Fundamentals of Comparative Cognition is a short text designed to convey the essence of this rich and exciting field. Like my monograph Cognition, Evolution, and Behavior (Shettleworth, 2010), this book integrates research from laboratory and field, psychology and behavioral ecology/ethology. The Fundamentals especially emphasizes psychological principles, highlighting theoretical issues and experimental approaches that cut across specific research questions. It gives special attention to species comparisons, emphasizing sound evolutionary thinking and methods for testing comparative hypotheses about cognition. It includes the established foundations of the field along with new and controversial topics, such as whether any other animals plan or have theory of mind. Further Readings at the end of each chapter direct readers to more depth and detail. The book can thus serve as an up to date text for an undergraduate course or as the backbone of an advanced seminar or graduate course in comparative cognition. The material would also be appropriate for a component of a course in animal behavior, behavioral ecology, cognitive science, or behavioral neuroscience.
The organization reflects the current state of the field, with equal emphasis on basic processes, physical cognition, and social cognition. A short introductory chapter provides historical background and discusses key foundational issues such as approaches to species comparison and the roles of anthropomorphism and Lloyd Morgan’s Canon, illustrated with examples from contemporary research. The three central chapters present the experimental approaches, data, and key theories. Basic Processes (Chapter 2) covers domain-general processes of perception, memory, associative learning, category and concept learning. Physical Cognition (Chapter 3) includes space, time, number, instrumental behavior, foraging and economic decision-making, and tool use. Social Cognition (Chapter 4) includes cognitive requirements of sociality, social learning and imitation, cooperation, theory of mind, animal communication and its relationship to human language. Chapter 5 sums up by considering contemporary discussions of Darwin’s claim that the human mind is “different in degree but not in kind” from that of other animals.